- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2001

From time to time on these pages, I've written of Seattle Determinism: Whatever happens in Seattle will be headed your way soon enough. First Microsoft, Starbuck's, Nordie's. Then WTO, the Battle in Seattle, which did in fact attempt a reprise at the World Bank some months later. And now that 6.8 little jolt, the Rattle in Seattle.

Listen up, Beltway. You need to know. This was a highly informative and evocative event. It was, in its way, metaphoric. Prior to the quake, Seattle's biggest problem was too much nice weather. We've had several dry winters, water and snow pack levels are declining, the fish don't like it, and electricity's becoming a problem.

Much of our power here is hydro. Of late our power seems to be heading south, to a land populated by a race known as Californicators. Once, we worried about hordes of them moving up here and turning our city into another … well, let's just say their license plates hang as trophies above many a mantle. Now they're staying put and sucking up all our juice.

A few days ago, Gov. Gary Locke started asking various major organizations to cut back on their decorative lighting. Starbucks refused. When the quake came, Starbucks headquarters got hit really bad. Lights out, guys. So did nearby Pioneer Square, the scene of several ugly Mardi Gras (known here as Fat Tuesday) incidents and riots last weekend. At the moment of the quake, Mayor Paul Schell, an old '60s leftie who had honestly believed the WTO protesters when they promised to behave, was in Pioneer Square. Mr. Schell is running for re-election, and was there to announce all the wonderful things he was going to do for them.

A few blocks away, at the Westin, Bill Gates was making a speech to some sort of education group. When the shaking started, he just stood there. No Duck and Cover for that boy.

And yet, all over the region, the kids knew what to do. Within five seconds they were all under their desks, leaving their teachers wondering where their classes had gone. Then it was over, and the only sound tens of thousands of children whipping out their cell phones simultaneously.

The state legislature wasn't quite that proactive. By the time they passed motions to adjourn, the dome of the capitol had already cracked. Judging from the videos, however, they won the Fear & Trembling Award.

It lasted a minute or two, depending on where you were. The usual earthquake cycle. What's this? Uh-oh. Kinda cool. OK, you can stop now. I said, you can stop now. Etc. And then the All-American Response.

Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. Check out the other folks. Then turn on the TV. Local television did a marvelous job (Susan Hutchison, KIRO Channel 7, yer the bestest). Damage and injury reports. Road and school closings. Events. Unfortunately, nature abhors a vacuum. Gotta keep talking. So all the stations kept showing the same survivor interviews, over and over, everybody reporting exactly the same experience in exactly the same words. Well, when it started, I … By day's end, it seemed an orgy of on-air group therapy.

Want to talk about it? No, and I don't want to listen, either. Maybe nature actually loves a vacuum, when that vacuum is television. After a while, people started shifting to the national news channels: CNN, MSNBC, Fox.

All we heard about was Seattle. Once again, we had our 15 minutes of fame. By evening, local media were calling it Our Big Quake. The civic pride was evident.

So was relief. It could have been worse. Much worse. Seattle sits on very shaky ground. More faults than the one that starts in California up here. A few weeks ago, a study was released showing that a certain type of quake could actually generate a tsunami in Puget Sound and Lake Washington. And we thought tsunamis only came from Japan.

It wasn't The Big One. But it could have been. And at least the local volcanoes, Rainier and Mount St. Helen's, didn't take it personal. Or did they?



Philip Gold is president of Aretea, a Seattle-based cultural affairs center which suffered no physical damage since it has no physical location.

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